As a curatorial device, the question of time — how it influences artistic production, how we understand and express it — is philosophically primal, intoxicatingly ripe and, well, evergreen. In “A Journey That Wasn’t,” the Broad’s new exhibition exploring “complex representations of time and its passage,” it is an inspired thread that unleashes layers of meaning and intensity in a diverse pick of works from the last several decades, including recent acquisitions and debuts.
Monumental paintings and assemblage works by Ed Ruscha, Marlene Dumas, David Salle, Neo Rauch and Elliott Hundley are awe-inspiring masterpieces that dazzle in any context. But at the heart of the exhibition is a series of works that agitate our obsession with subjectivity and truth, toying with intervention, revision, appropriation, dramatization to explore complexities of representation, memory and emotion. Photography and video installations that probe soft terrain between record and fantasy exert an influence throughout.
Co-curator Ed Schad nodded to Sharon Lockhart’s Pine Flats, a series of portraits the artist took of children in a rural California mountain town, as a starting point. “That work is very meditative, very slow-moving, and invites you to get involved in the lives of these kids in the same way she was getting involved with them. That repetition, but also sort of a humanistic approach to art, was one of the ways we started thinking about other works in the collection,” Schad said.
In the most obvious way, Pine Flats references the theme — “the fleetingness of youth,” said co-curator Sarah Loyer, noting subtle aging between photos of the same subjects and the inevitable realization that these children are now adults. Lockhart spent years in the community and, as Schad suggests, the resulting work reflects an immersion in the world of her subjects: Posed during long exposures yet startlingly candid, they return her gaze (and ours) with a rare, familiar intimacy.
“A lot of [artist] in the Broad Collection came out of work made specifically in the 1970s, when people are mining some of these manipulations of time, through seriality, through repetition, both literary and visual art,” Schad said. “The Broads, when they were really collecting in depth in the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of people who use appropriation, that came up (then) in the legacy of someone like Sherrie Levine.”
Levine’s After Russell Lee 1-60 (2016) echoes her previous literal appropriations — photographs of photographs from a catalogue of reproductions — of iconic work by male artists in the early 1980s, challenging authorship and authority in an art world from which women were largely excluded. If this polemical work feels impervious, it is less so next to Glenn Ligon’s literary-inspired plays on context as a defining catalyst — including a neon installation of a Gertrude Stein quote, pared down to incendiary effect; both question assumptions about dominant social narratives that resonate today.
Pierre Huyghe’s 2006 film, from which the exhibition’s title was taken, melts documentary formalism with sweeping cinematic drama to spectacular end. What starts as a documentary about a scientific expedition to Antarctica (that may or may not have discovered an elusive albino penguin) becomes a performance of itself — a dramatization of the voyage staged on a New York ice rink with a full orchestra playing a score inspired by the quest’s topography.
“On the one hand it’s … like something you’d see on Discovery Channel — but really it’s a fantastical thing,” Schad said. “It’s kind of mystical — he’s going after this albino penguin and the fact that it becomes a performance, that sort of thing echoes throughout the show.”
Elsewhere, time trips and loops as moments are disassembled, recomposed and insinuated. In a digital echo of Renaissance masters, Andreas Gursky’s photos “capture” complex, kinetic scenes by compositing ideal iterations of myriad subjects. Paul Pfeiffer’s video sculptures (in which moving subjects are erased, leaving a pixelated apparition behind) put cameras inside the work, while in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s meticulous observations, the camera’s presence recedes in favor of aspired objectivity. Gregory Crewdson’s photos of ruined Fascist Italian movie sets evoke the neorealist aesthetic that arose from the same history, while Goshka Macuga’s Death of Marxism, Women of All Lands Unite collages products of the male gaze (photos of women) against a backdrop of Karl Marx’s grave, inviting questions about their historical absence. That the entire image is printed on a tapestry — which is, in fact, made by a machine — adds compelling further dimension.
The curatorial voice is sometimes eager to alert us to the “decay” and “decline” evident in works throughout the show. (As if we needed a reminder that the world is crumbling.) Time is oppressive, yes, but also emancipatory; a mortal bell, but an affirmation of existence. In image-making, it is illusory and material, a metric with endless possibilities.
Amidst all the cerebral stuff, Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, a popular immersive video installation that was part of the Broad’s inaugural show in 2016, offers a powerful emotional anchor. Musicians filmed simultaneously playing the same song in different rooms of an (aging) mansion are shown on nine large individual screens with attached speakers. Walking through the black-box room, you get the sense that you are moving through that specific time and place — but with enhancements: Your senses are heightened as you, improbably, experience the individual and the whole at once.
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If the exhibition began with work that slowed and distorted time, that effect resonates throughout. After winding through its warrens, you may find yourself back in “A Journey That Wasn’t,” mesmerized, watching black-glass seas give way to a sulfurous, post-apocalyptic cityscape.
Linger. It’s the kind of show you’ll want to spend some time with.
In conjunction with “A Journey That Wasn’t,” Summer Happenings at the Broad offers a series of related live performance events throughout the season.